“A series of East Devon District Council Independent councillors strongly criticised Tory proposals to commence work on a replacement car park, as part of the Queens Drive Regeneration Project, at the EDDC Cabinet meeting on 31 October.
Leading the criticism was Exmouth Councillor Megan Armstrong (Exmouth Halsdon – Independent) who referred to the planned new road as “a road to nowhere”.
Other Independent Councillors expressing concern about the Tory course of action were Independents Roger Giles, Ben Ingham, and Rob Longhurst and EDA Members Cathy Gardner and Geoff Jung.
The first criticism related to timing. Although it was a major and contentious issue, the report for the meeting was issued just 24 hours before the meeting.
Megan Armstrong urged that the report be deferred to allow councillors time to properly consider the proposals, and the implications. She said that sending out the report so late was “manipulative management.”
Cathy Gardner said it was “extremely regrettable that such short notice was given for such an important issue”.
It had originally been agreed that the go ahead for construction of the car park would only be given when agreement had been reached between EDDC and Grenadier about construction of the Watersports Centre by Grenadier.
However the EDDC Cabinet was informed on 31 October that no such agreement had been reached. Merely that verbal assurances had been made.
Roger Giles warned the Cabinet that going ahead without the required agreement carried substantial risks. He cited paragraph 2.7 of the report which said : `Cabinet should be aware that this represents a risk that the council is incurring costs without Grenadier being legally committed to delivering the Watersports Centre thereafter.`
Roger Giles asked whether independent audit advice had been sought about the inherent risk. He was told it had not.
Ben Ingham was strongly critical of undertaking such a high risk strategy.
Rob Longhurst criticised the lack of a business plan, and the absence of costings, and said there was a lack of justification for the departure from the previous strategy.
Geoff Jung questioned the income assumptions; he asked how a smaller car park than the original would generate increased income. He also expressed concern about EDDC`s responsibilities anf financial burden, should Grenadier not develop the site.
Megan Armstrong pointed out that the Cabinet agenda papers (item 10 pages 31 to 35) contained the minutes of the meeting of the Exmouth Regeneration Board on 20 September. The minutes contained no reference to the proposed early construction of the car park!
Megan Armstrong asked a series of critical questions, including about the three outstanding `condition precedents`, and seeking explanation of the beach access agreement.
She complained that questions asked by herself, and by other independent councillors, had not received proper answers. Council Leader Ian Thomas told her he would ensure that she received answers after the meeting; Megan Armstrong was very critical of councillors being asked to make a decision – and then to receive the pertinent information AFTER the decision was made: she said “That is a very poor form of decision making.”
In spite of the failure to achieve the necessary agreements the (Conservative) Cabinet agreed to proceed with early construction of the car park after only 3 Cabinet Members spoke very briefly.
After the meeting Megan Armstrong was highly critical of the Cabinet decision.
“Tonight Tory councillors made an important decision relating to Exmouth, and they denied the people of Exmouth the opportunity to comment on it. The Tory councillors agreed a very high risk strategy without justification for it, and without proper safeguard for public funds for which they are responsible. It is irresponsible political management; Exmouth deserves better.”